After the Nationals sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline, the baseball world thought the Nats were done making moves for a while. After all, nearly every expiring contract on the roster had been moved to a contending team, kickstarting the Nats’ retool. However, Mike Rizzo had one last-minute deal in the works on deadline day.
In a move nobody saw coming, veteran pitcher Jon Lester was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Lester had struggled mightily in his short tenure with the Nationals, and the Cardinals needed starting pitching depth. The trade made perfect sense for both sides. When the news first broke, I expected the Nats to get a low-level prospect in return. Instead, they acquired outfielder Lane Thomas, who quickly became the Nats’ bright spot of the second half. Thomas even took over the everyday center field job from Victor Robles, a move nobody saw coming.
The Nats’ main strategy at this point in the retool is to try and find players like Thomas: diamonds in the rough who might need a change of scenery. I think the Nats have found themselves this year’s Lane Thomas.
The Washington Nationals selected second baseman Andy Young from the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday. Young, alongside RHPs Curtis Taylor, Matt Brill, and Dakody Clemmer, were selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft; the four officially join the AAA roster, although they are able to be called up at any point in the year should the Nats decide to add them to the 40-man roster. Taylor, Brill, and Clemmer are all interesting relief pitching prospects; Taylor was even ranked as one of the Blue Jays’ top prospects before being selected by Washington. None of the three should be expected to make the big league team this year.
The real prize of the Minor League Rule 5 Draft is Young, who primarily plays second base but can bounce around the infield and outfield. Young was the Cardinals’ 37th round pick in 2016 out of Indiana State, and was traded to Arizona in the Paul Goldschmidt deal. At the minor league level, Young is known for his offensive production. He hit over .300 in time with the AAA Reno Aces in 2021, slugging eleven home runs and carrying an OPS approaching 1.000. However, Young’s brilliance at the AAA level did not translate into success with the big-league team. He hovered around the Mendoza line with the D-Backs last year, although he did hit six home runs in the limited time he spent in the big leagues. Young’s most concerning attribute is his strikeout rate: he struck out in over 40% of plate appearances last season, a truly abysmal rate. However, if you look past the strikeouts, Young’s combination of contact, power, and defensive versatility makes him an excellent pick up in the MiLB Rule 5 draft.
It’s rare to say this about any player selected in the Minor League Rule 5 draft, but I would be shocked if the Nats do not give Young a look in the Majors this year. With a strong Spring Training, Young could make the Opening Day roster, considering his defensive versatility and prior MLB experience. Given the state of the Nats’ roster right now, there is nothing wrong with taking a shot in the dark on a player like Young. The Cesar Hernandez signing complicates things a little bit, as the Nats made a free agent splash at Young’s natural position. Still, given his power and his ability to play multiple positions on the diamond, Young is an ideal bench piece for this retooling Nats team in 2022. And who knows–if Hernandez struggles or is flipped at the Trade Deadline, Young could back into being the team’s everyday second baseman by season’s end, a la Lane Thomas.
Andy Young is the typical AAAA player–he has shown that he is ready for the big leagues, but has not been able to translate his success at the minor league level to the MLB. Who is another most prime example of an AAAA player? Lane Thomas. He was truly terrible with the Cardinals last year, hitting .104 in 32 games. Yet with Memphis in AAA, he looked solid. After Thomas got a change of scenery through being traded to the Nats, he turned things around and became an everyday major league player. A change of scenery is going to be beneficial for Young as well, and I fully expect him to contribute in a big way for the Nats this year.